In Black Rock, second-time director Katie Aselton (The Freebie 2010) pairs up with her writer/actor husband Mark Duplass to bring together themes of resentment, guilt and vengeance in this $7 million horror. Yet with a rather weak stalker/slasher plot, Black Rock does not quite achieve the levels of tension or brutality it aspires to.
Sarah (Kate Bosworth), Lou (Lake Bell) and Abby (Aselton) set off to an abandoned island where they spent happy years as children. During their first night on the island, the friends find themselves joined by three men, ex- soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. After a drunken incident resulting in the death of one of the men, Sarah, Lou and Abby find themselves being hunted by the servicemen through the woods of Black Rock. There are definite problems with the film’s narrative logic. Once the girls are captured and escape, they are reunited almost immediately. It would have been more engaging to see the women attempt to hide on their own for longer, seeing them worry about the group and get a sense of how they coped once the group was dissolved. In one sequence the characters decide to wait until dark to try to escape via the boat they came on and the scene immediately following is that night. The film would have benefitted from a few more set-pieces or at least an interim scene or two rather than skipping a time window for the sake of plot exposition.
Black Rock owes a lot to the rape/revenge exploitation films of the 1970s such as The Last House on the Left (1972) and I Spit On Your Grave (1978) demonstrated in its use of low budget special effects, a grainy stock and a nihilistic mood. Sadly Black Rock is nowhere near as brutal, harrowing or effective. Violent acts largely occur off-screen; we do not see the actual penetration of blades, only their results but this is frustrating rather than suspenseful and the film would have benefitted from employing more visceral shots. The film treads ground that has been done before and better such as the more recent revenge horror Eden Lake (2008).
Stylistically, the grainy film offers a definite indie aesthetic, aided by naturalistic lighting during the daytime scenes, acknowledging Aselton and Duplass’s mumblecore associations. Night scenes prove a little more problematic, with one sequence in the sea in particular very obviously lit by spotlights. The narrative is engaging enough to forgive the technical faults however. While generic in most regards, Black Rock does subvert convention on a number of occasions. The film plays around with the “Final Girl” scenario in a surprising manner, which provided one of the film’s infrequent but genuine shocks. The characterisation of the three girls is also executed well and, when given space and time, tensions in the group are largely effective. However, genre fans may find something ultimately lacking and while Black Rock will most likely do well in DVD sales, it is largely forgettable.